Prime Minister Shinzo Abe must erase doubts — sparked by his own words and deeds — that he wants to water down accounts of Japan’s wartime wrongs, according to a former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Yohei Kono, who as chief Cabinet secretary issued a landmark 1993 apology over the “comfort women” forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels, said Tuesday that one source of such doubts is Abe’s push for a more muscular military unfettered by the pacifist Constitution.
“Mr. Abe talks of a ‘proactive contribution to peace,’ but what does that mean?” Kono said in an interview, referring to Abe’s signature security policy that includes ending a ban on the Self-Defense Forces fighting abroad, allowing arms exports and revising the postwar U.S.-drafted Constitution.
“Simply put, it is a rash way of thinking that would create peace even with military force,” Kono said. “I have great anxiety about that and so do the Japanese people.”
Kono was deputy prime minister in a coalition government in 1995 when Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, of the Social Democratic Party, issued a historic “heartfelt apology” for wartime damage and suffering caused by Japan. Now retired from the Diet, Kono is a rare moderate voice in the increasingly conservative LDP, but public opinion polls show many ordinary voters share his concerns.
Abe, who has expressed reservations about both the Kono and Murayama statements in the past, has more recently said he intends to uphold past apologies. But he has signaled that he wants to issue a forward-looking statement in his own words to mark the 70th anniversary the end of World War II later this year.
“Why would he need to change the words? That is why people have doubts,” said the 78-year-old Kono. “He must erase those doubts and the simplest way to do so is to uphold the Murayama statement unchanged.”
If Abe sends a different message, Kono said, Tokyo’s ties with Beijing and Seoul will suffer, annoying Washington, which wants better ties in the often tense region.
Japan’s ties with Seoul are currently frosty, largely because of the festering feud over comfort women, many of whom were Korean. Seoul says Japan has not done enough to atone, while many Japanese conservatives argue there is no proof of direct military or government involvement in forcibly recruiting the women.
Sino-Japanese relations, plagued by feuds over history, territory and geopolitical rivalry, have thawed a bit since a leaders’ summit last November, but the past still rankles.
Kono also said he is “totally opposed” to revising the Constitution’s pacifist Article 9.
“Japan made a fresh start 70 years ago based on remorse for that tragic war, the many lives lost and the troubles caused to neighboring countries,” he said. “Now Japanese people worry in their hearts that we will somehow set aside that remorse and those memories, and walk the same path as in the past.”